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Hosmer's defensive skills on display early for SD

Preller, Padres confident in first baseman's abilities with the glove
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres spent a lot of money on a four-time Gold Glove Award-winning first baseman this offseason. On one ground ball in the ninth inning Friday night, Eric Hosmer put those credentials on full display.

Milwaukee's Christian Yelich bounced a two-hopper slightly to Hosmer's left. Hosmer wisely took a step backward and played the long hop on his backhand. With Orlando Arcia breaking home, Hosmer -- who was playing back -- made a snap decision to cut down the tying run. Then, with pinpoint accuracy, he delivered the throw to Padres catcher Austin Hedges, who applied the tag.

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres spent a lot of money on a four-time Gold Glove Award-winning first baseman this offseason. On one ground ball in the ninth inning Friday night, Eric Hosmer put those credentials on full display.

Milwaukee's Christian Yelich bounced a two-hopper slightly to Hosmer's left. Hosmer wisely took a step backward and played the long hop on his backhand. With Orlando Arcia breaking home, Hosmer -- who was playing back -- made a snap decision to cut down the tying run. Then, with pinpoint accuracy, he delivered the throw to Padres catcher Austin Hedges, who applied the tag.

In one play, Hosmer showed off the glove, the arm and the quick-thinking smarts that have earned him so many accolades. Defensively, at least, it was everything the Padres paid for.

And yet, traditional defensive metrics haven't quite aligned with that version of Hosmer. The two most popular advanced methods for evaluating defenders -- Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) -- pegged Hosmer as well-below-league average.

Somewhere, there's a disconnect. Privately, the Padres don't concern themselves much with those metrics. Even the staunchest defenders of those numbers acknowledge their flaws -- specifically for first basemen.

"There's size, athleticism, an ability to throw, pick," Padres general manager A.J. Preller said of Hosmer's defensive ability. "His feel at first base is really good -- when to get the big hop, when to get the short hop, when to come off the bag. He has a great feel around the bag. That's what's elite to me. He's a big target guy, who is absolutely elite with the skills he brings around the bag."

Video: ARI@SD: Hosmer reaches into dugout to make catch

Almost none of those factors enter into part of Hosmer's DRS or UZR. His excellent arm probably doesn't get its due, either. The Padres don't discuss the specifics of their internal data. But it's safe to say they rate Hosmer's defense a little more highly.

"As far as his defensive ability, we know we feel very good about him," Preller said.

There's also the matter of Hosmer's defensive positioning. It's a stark contrast to where Wil Myers lined up last season.

Thanks to Statcast™, we know the average starting position of every player on every play. If we eliminate data from plays with a man on first base -- to avoid situations where the first baseman is holding a runner on -- Hosmer was second deepest among first basemen against both righties and lefties. Myers, meanwhile, was the second shallowest against lefties and shallowest against righties.

Take a look at the below graph. Hosmer is the red dot, with Myers as the dot closest to home plate. As you'll also notice, Hosmer isn't straying too far from the bag, while Myers is. Initially, at least, the Padres don't plan on changing that.

"When you come to a new organization, a place you know you're going to be for the next eight years, the wisest thing to do is to allow a guy to play," manager Andy Green said. "We'll ask to make adjustments in time, if we feel like there's a need. He's won four Gold Gloves back there, so we'll let him position accordingly and offer things if we see fit."

Said Hosmer: "I've always played kind of way back, tried to give myself as much range as possible. The only difference so far has been a lot more bunting plays, and I'm a little more involved."

It's not necessarily the depth so much as the positioning along the line. The Padres believe Hosmer's raw range numbers are negatively affected by his positioning, particularly during shifts. Hosmer lines up close to the line. Of course he's going to get to fewer balls between first and second.

Over time, that may change in San Diego. It may not, should the club's own data deem Hosmer more valuable closer to the bag.

One thing that's certain, however, is the deep admiration within the organization for Hosmer's defensive skill set -- numbers be darned.

"How many guys his size, as long as he is, are that flexible?" said Padres infield coach Josh Johnson. "He uses every advantage.

"I've seen this guy train as if he's a middle infielder. I've seen him train as if he's getting ready for the combine. Most first basemen can't do the things he does."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Eric Hosmer